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Off-roaders cry foul at renewable energy plan

VICTORVILLE • Off-roading enthusiast Jon Stewart was among dozens of people who showed up at a public hearing Friday to protest a plan that would fast-track renewable energy projects throughout California’s deserts.

“They’re not looking at hunting, photography, astronomy and stargazing, it’s all of these little things people want to go out and do and enjoy,” said Stewart, a member of the California Association of 4 Wheel Drive Clubs.

One of the main topics of Friday’s Off Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Commission meeting was expected to be OHV vehicles on the Pacific Crest Trail. However, after a presentation on the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, the focus quickly shifted to the preservation of the desert and the use of public land.

The plan is a collaboration between the country, state and numerous other agencies to take 22 million acres of the desert from the Mexico border to Inyo County and use the natural resources – sun and wind – for renewable energy. The plan has been under scrutiny since in its introduction in 2012.

The tipping point of Friday’s meeting was the concern over the preservation of recreational areas. Even though the plan states that recreational areas will be preserved, many OHV proponents are wary.

“It’s a bait-and-switch tactic,” said Stewart. “They’re subdividing (OHV vehicles) into a corridor and not looking at the big picture of how people enjoy the desert.”

OHMVR commissioner Kevin Murphy said it is “alarming to think about zoning the desert” and cutting it up into areas of energy production while leaving others for those who want to photograph or enjoy recreation.

“Someone trying to appease one group to use the land for some non-public benefit is upsetting as a person that lives out here and loves the desert,” said Lancaster resident Doug Parham. “Recreation has never been controlled.”

Parham suggested putting solar panels on the roofs of the urban landscape where there is plenty of open space on the tops of buildings and parking garages.

Terry Weiner from the Desert Protective Council seconded Parham’s suggestions of urban solar but had different concerns behind her reasoning.

Weiner said the problems go beyond humans’ desire for unspoiled beauty and recreation. She said solar panels cause problems for wildlife as well. She said birds can be burned by the heat coming off of solar towers or mistake a sea of solar panels for water. She also said the land can be negatively affected by the massive amounts of construction. Weiner urged the plan to be held off until all of the studies are done about how everything will be affected.

The public draft of the plan is expected to be released in the spring or summer this year, and there will be a 90-day comment period for the public to voice its opinions.